Summary of the main discussions

3rd regional seminar on Data collection as a prerequisite for effective policies to combat violence against women, including domestic violence, Lisbon, 5 July 2007


Background to the seminar 

During the Third Summit of the Council of Europe in May 2005, the Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe reaffirmed their commitment to eradicating violence against women, including domestic violence. In adopting an Action Plan envisaging the launch of a Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence, and the institution of a Task Force on the same topic, they defined future activities by the Council of Europe in this field.

The Task Force, consisting of a group of eight international experts in the field of preventing and combating violence against women, developed the Blueprint for the Campaign. This document serves as a roadmap for the implementation of the Campaign and was approved by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. It contains a definition of violence against women, as well as aims, objectives, messages and activities to implement the Campaign.

Following the approval of the Campaign Blueprint by the Committee of Ministers, the Campaign was launched at a high-level conference on 27 November 2006 in Madrid. The Campaign incorporates three closely linked dimensions: governmental, parliamentary and local/regional. It is carried out by the Council of Europe as well as its member states, in partnership with international intergovernmental organisations and NGOs involved in the protection of women against violence.

The Campaign will end with a closing conference to be held in June 2008. On this occasion, the Council of Europe Task Force to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence, will present its conclusions and assessment of measures and actions taken at national level to combat violence against women, including domestic violence as well as its recommendations to the Council of Europe for future action in this field.

The intergovernmental Campaign activities carried out by the Council of Europe include five regional seminars - in co-operation with the requesting member state - devoted to one of the Campaign objectives as laid out in the Campaign Blueprint.

The Seminar on Data collection as a prerequisite for effective policies to combat violence against women, including domestic violence was the third such seminar. It was held on 5 July 2007 in Lisbon, Portugal.

Around 170 government and NGO representatives from Austria, Armenia, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Malta, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia and Ukraine gathered in Lisbon to share information on and discuss the role of data in informing and shaping effective policies to combat violence against women.

Keynote speeches explained the type of data that can be collected: surveys on violence against women as population-based data or administrative data from organisations, institutions and agencies that provide services for victims of such violence.

Presentations on national experiences in collecting either type of data highlighted difficulties, but also the usefulness of this exercise. How to go about collecting such data and how to use it was explored as were international developments in harmonising the collection of data.

The role of data in combating violence against women 

The role of data in shaping, implementing and monitoring policies to combat violence against women is essential. Population-based prevalence data showing rates of victimisation is useful to design effective policies. Service-based administrative data of government agencies and institutions on the other hand shows how the police, judiciary and social welfare system are serving victims of violence and is therefore essential in monitoring the effectiveness of laws, policies and goals set out in national plans of action.

Even though more and more Council of Europe member states are carrying out population-based surveys, they are neither comparable across countries nor necessarily carried out on a regular basis to allow for comparison over time. This means that while important work is being done to assess the scale of victimisation, harmonised standards in this respect are lacking.

Service-based administrative data, on the other hand, is a form of data that – despite the benefits of information technology – is rarely collected. Government agencies such as the police, the judiciary, the public health sector or child or social welfare services do not have administrative data systems in place that go beyond internal recording needs of the agency. As a consequence, violence against women becomes invisible because it is difficult to track cases even across the criminal justice system. Similarly, it is difficult to assess whether any improvements in reporting and prosecution have occurred. Furthermore, the effectiveness of multi-agency strategies to improve intervention is weakened by failing to give a minimum of feedback about interlocking procedures when other agencies take over. While it is important to take issues of data protection into consideration, this does not represent insurmountable obstacles when discussing enhanced collection of administrative data.

Collecting population-based data and international standards in this field 

As more and more victimisation surveys on violence against women and/or domestic violence are being conducted, good practices in methodology, survey design and interviewing are beginning to emerge. At the same time, the desire to draw lessons from other countries reveals differences in approach that often make comparison or adaptation impossible. International efforts are therefore underway to analyse existing surveys with the ultimate aim of arriving at harmonised indicators1.

Due to national and international projects devoted to furthering the knowledge-base on violence against women through surveys, challenges and pitfalls, but also factors that enhance the success of such surveys, have come to light. Both the Multi-country study on women’s health and domestic violence of the World Health Organisation and the International Violence against Women Survey Project are important sources of information on what works and what does not. As surveys on violence against women are a highly sensitive matter and the data quality largely depends on the level of sensitivity of methodology and interviewer, the World Health Organisation has issued methodological and ethical recommendations for research on this topic. Applying great care in designing questions and training interviewers to adequately pose sensitive questions will result in higher data quality.

Participants agreed that across Europe, official data is inadequate in relation to all forms of violence against women – rape, stalking, domestic violence, forced marriage - and that much more needed to be done. Common opinion seemed to be that the most reliable form of collecting data is is population-based surveys and that methodologies should be harmonised to a certain degree. However, the danger of standardising such surveys was pointed out by several participants because that would not allow for national specificities to be respected. Violence against women surveys should form part of the national statistical system and should be carried out by national statistics offices to ensure greater continuity.

Collecting service-based administrative data and international standards in this field 

Government agencies and institutions as well as NGOs providing services for women victims of violence dispose of a wealth of information which, if systematically collected, could reveal vital information on how the police and criminal justice system, the public health system and the social welfare system serve the needs of victims. Levels of confidence in the police forces and the criminal justice system could be detected through monitoring rates of reporting, prosecution and conviction of cases of all forms of violence against women (rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, honour killings etc). The public health sector could support efforts to reach out to women victims of violence by screening and recording cases of violence, as some public hospitals are already doing.

However, lack of agreed indicators and model data collection systems as well as diverging definitions of violence against women make the systematic collection of such data difficult and the available information patchy.

Nonetheless, the national experiences presented during the seminar showed that promising steps are being taken. Participants and keynote speakers pointed out that the collection of systematic data has been repeatedly called for in various international documents and is therefore more than a mere academic exercise2.

Data as a knowledge-base for effective policies to combat violence against women 

Without adequate information on the number and types of cases of violence against women and how they are being dealt with by government agencies, it is impossible to develop the services that victims of such violence really need. Participants therefore considered it important that cases of violence against women be identified and recorded as such by the relevant public sectors which encounter and deal with them in order to draw conclusions on the multiple needs of victims and design corresponding policies. Because in the end, the common goal is to eliminate violence against women and not just measure it.

Note 1 For detailed information on the work of the UNECE Task Force on the Measurement of Violence against Women please see their report “Analysis of national surveys carried out by the countries of the conference of European statisticians to measure violence against women” , UN Economic and Social Commission, ECE/CES/GE.30/2006/6 of 8 September 2006.
Note 2 Council of Europe Recommendation (2002) 5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the protection of women against violence, point V; United Nations Beijing Platform for Action, Strategic Objective H3, no. 206j and no. 207b; United Nations Study of the Secretary-General on “Ending violence against women: From words to action”